By Brien O’Donal
The Texans hit the road in week 13 to face the Tennessee Titans in an important AFC South Division game. It’s not so important for the Texans who need to win 4 of their last 5 games to have an outside shot at the playoffs, but the Titans are 7-4 and tied for the division lead. They have to keep pace with Jacksonville who won again today. It wasn’t going to be easy though, Jadeveon Clowney and the Texans defense were prepared to make a stand with their offense struggling to help them since Tom Savage took over, having only won one game in their last four. But the passing offense played decently today, especially with a lot of injuries. DeAndre Hopkins and Stephen Miller picked up the slack when injuries mounted. Hopkins caught 8 for 80 yards and Miller caught 5 for 70 and their only touchdown.
Despite a bad first drive of the game by the Texans that went 3-and-out after 5 yards, it was an uncharacteristic good play by their special teams that got them the ball back. Titans punt returner Adoree Jackson fumbled the ball after a 25-yard return and Alfred Blue recovered it for the turnover. The Texans went 36 yards but stalled inside the 10-yard line and Ka’imi Fairbairn kicked a 23-yard field goal to put the Texans up 3-0 early in the 1st quarter.
The Titans came right back but didn’t get the same result. An 8-play 53-yard drive by them ended with a missed field goal by Ryan Succop. Their defense would force another 3-and-out and they would get another drive going, but another punt put the ball back into Tom Savage’s hand.
After starting from their own 13-yard line, the Texans ran two plays and were at the 40-yard line. The first big play of the game was Savage finding a wide-open Braxton Miller for a 57-yard catch and run down to the Titans 3 yard line. A great catch by Stephen Anderson on a low thrown ball and the Texans were now leading 10-0 in the 2nd quarter.
Not to be outdone, Marcus Mariota led the Titans down the field 75 yards in 10 plays, getting the Titans on the board and cutting the deficit to 3 points with a 9-yard touchdown run. Texans still led 10-7 at that point.
A little over four minutes remained on the clock before halftime and the Texans knew they needed to get something going to extend their lead before the break. Savage led a good 12-play drive but a bad sack on 3rd down halted the drive at the Tennessee 30-yard line. An up and down kicker the last few weeks; Fairbairn missed the 48-yarder and now Mariota and the Titans offense would have the ball on their own 38-yard line. In 4 plays they would get into field goal range and with 8 seconds left before halftime they would tie the game at 10 on a 43-yarder from Succop.
The Texans offense seemed to be able to move the ball well through the air when they needed, and their first drive of the second half could have been a good answer to the Titans. They ran 16 plays and used up 8 minutes of clock time. But they still have to learn to finish their drives. After stalling again near the goal line, Fairbairn missed his second field goal of the game and that great effort was for naught and it remained a tie game, 10-10.
The Titans made them pay on the very next drive. From his own 20-yard line Mariota went 3 for 5 for 55 yards through the air while they gained another 25 yards on the ground. After a 3rd down play had the spot overturned upon further review they went for it on 4th-and-1 from the Houston 27-yard line. A 3-yard run by Derrick Henry gave them a 1st down and the next play was a 24-yard touchdown pass to Delanie Walker for the Titans first lead of the game, 17-10.
Punts were traded and the Texans got the ball with 11:31 on the clock in the 4th quarter. in 7 minutes they ran 12 plays down to the Tennessee 24-yard line. Fairbairn would put the Texans closer with a 42-yard field goal making him 2 for 4 on the day. But now only 4 and a half minutes were left and the Texans were still down 17-13.
Zach Cunningham made sure the defense held and only about 2 minutes came off the clock putting Tom Savage and Bill O’Brien in position to win the game in the final minutes.
It didn’t look good though. Facing a 4th and 4 from the Tennessee 36-yard line the Texans got three consecutive false start penalties from left tackle Jeff Allen to stare down the barrel of 4th and 19. For the second time today Savage found Stephen Anderson on a great catch. This one went for 22 yards and a first down. And then, as if he just has an uncontrollable urge to do so, Savage threw an interception in the end zone to Titans cornerback LeShaun Sims to end the drive and all hope of winning the game.
Derrick Henry would put the game out of reach 3 plays later when he ran for a 75-yard touchdown making it 24-13 Tennessee.
This game could have been a lot different. The Texans were able to move the ball well outside of the red zone but two missed field goals, only one touchdown on three trips inside the 10-yard line, and a bad interception under 2 minutes left in the game just won’t get it done. The Titans only turned the ball over once and it was so early in the game it had little effect on the final.
If the coaches and leadership of the Texans can’t see that Tom Savage is the sole reason they are losing then there is no chance they turn this franchise into a winner any time soon. With the game on the line and a chance to take the lead in the final 2 minutes, Savage ruined everything good he had done before that.
He led the offense well today going 31 of 49 for 365 yards and a touchdown when the rushing game could only muster 53 yards. It looked like missed field goals would be to blame for the situation, but Savage went out and did what he does best. He now has 13 turnovers by himself this season and he has only played in 6 games.
The Texans will face a beatable 49ers team at home next week but that’s no lock. Jimmy Garoppolo led them to their 2nd win of the season in his first start. He just might be able to beat a team that has a turnover machine at quarterback.